Auberge Ferayola, Argentella, Corsica
00 33 4 95652525
Price band *
A remote hideaway on Corsica’s spectacular west coast, 25km south of Calvi, with tennis court and pool, and a beach about 2km away, at Argentella. Good food, friendly dog, extremely rough road.
I have read that Michelin’s road maps have been dumbed down over the years, and tore the relevant pages out of my oldest road atlas for a recent cycling trip to Corsica. Its more muted colours and less shouty type face made the island look slightly less intimidating to the anxious cyclist who was wondering if he had bitten off more than he should sensibly attempt to pedal.
A more practical advantage of the old maps is the red underline for any town or village with an entry in the red Michelin guide. This thin red line has come to my aid many times, and I wish someone would explain why Michelin abandoned it. When scrutinising the map for a stopover or lunch spot on the road ahead, you see some unlikely backwater with a red line under its name, look it up in the guide and more often than not it turns up trumps. Or, if you are cycling without the bulky red guide in the pannier, you take a chance, as we did with Ferayola.
The last of the four days we devoted to stages 2 and 3 of the 2013 Tour de France route took us up Corsica’s wild west coast from Porto to Calvi. At the Fango river near Galeria, we came to a parting of the ways.
Of the two roads to Calvi the coastal option (D81bis) is 5km longer but stays lower: its highest point the Bocca Serria (146m) compares favourably with the inland D81’s Bocca di Marsolino (443m). The Tour de France planners chose the D81, naturally. We decided on the coast road, notwithstanding the advice of Morgane the charming receptionist at the hotel Eden Park near Porto, who had warned us at breakfast to prepare for punctures and serious judder. “15km of very bumpy surface,” she said, rolling her wrists to indicate acute corrugation and potholes. I made it about 19km.
We reached the bridge at about one o’clock and after taking the usual photographs of ourselves against a backdrop of snowy peaks addressed the lunch question. Glancing at the map I noticed a red line under the word Ferayola, about 9km (at a guess) ahead of us along the very bumpy road.
‘Lunch in Ferayola!’ I declared with a Napoleonic flourish, and off we set. The surface was as bad as Morgane had promised and doubt grew with every pothole. How could I be so confident that whatever establishment earned Ferayola its red underline ten years ago would still be there? It might not be a restaurant at all.
This magnificent coast is completely wild – dense prickly maquis uninterrupted by habitation of any kind. The views are stupendous, of one blue cove after another; but the road rarely comes close enough to the shore for any resort hamlet or seasonal beach restaurant to have implanted itself. If Ferayola failed to deliver, we would have a long hot 25km to ride with only water and a bag of peanuts to sustain us.
And suddenly it came upon us: a staircase leading up to a covered terrace with tables and chairs, all unoccupied, overlooking a bend in the road; a handful of bedrooms in a separate building pitched further up the slope. Any chance of something to eat? “Of course, why not?” said Fabrice Abelin from Ajaccio, who has recently taken on the Auberge. At the start of his first summer season we found M Abelin full of the joys and eager to please. “Choose any table you want,” he said, calling to his wife to stop tidying the garden and make lunch for us.
Their dog Oxo, an 8 month old rottweiler/golden retriever cross, came to greet us and settled down to intercept any stray morsels of charcuterie corse that might come his way. None did.
After the charcuterie Madame Abelin produced a succulent and satisfying plate of pork stuffed with Corsican sausage, followed by a mountainous strawberry pudding to round off the 23 euro lunch menu. “You’ve finished that too, I see” said M Abelin, and so we had. The bottle of Réserve Ferayola, with its appealingly homespun bandit-themed label, also appeared to be empty.
After inspecting the Auberge’s tennis court and sparkling pool, and wishing I had requested permission to throw myself in it before lunch – instead of washing the dust off my feet in the basin and spreading water all over the lavatory floor, much to the distress of the houseproud M Abelin – we pedalled off through the maquis once more. A good lunch stop, and a great triumph for the thin red line.
Price bands: from * (B&B for less than 50 euros per person per night in a shared room) to ***** (more than 175 euros)